How to Beat the Cubs in 4 games #sfgiants #nlds

Here you have the immovable object vs the unstoppable force:

  • The SF Giants, owners of one of the worst second-half’s in baseball (history)…the worst team left in the tournament…a team with a variety of questions almost everywhere outside of the starting rotation.
  • The Cubs roll in with the best record, best season, most momentum…a team that has almost no holes and small, nearly imperceptible weaknesses.
  • On the other hand, the Giants don’t lose in the playoffs, have this weird even-year voodoo going on, and are facing the “cursed” Cubbies.
  • The Giants, to my knowledge, have never been favored to win a postseason series during this run. They were never supposed to beat the 2010 Phillies, they couldn’t beat Cliff Lee and the Rangers; the 2012 Cardinals and Tigers were too talented to go down to Barry Zito and Co., and in 2014, the Royals were a runaway trail until they got Bumgarnered in the World Series. In many ways this would be the ultimate crowning achievement of the perpetual underdog Giants: taking down the Cubs.
  • Have you noticed how good the Cubs are?

Here’s a good summary of the two teams and their path to this moment.

One thing I would add to this: I admire the heck out of Joe Maddon. He’s a leader and his baseball strategies are inspired. But he’s never won anything. And he can get cute. Bochy has made some interesting moves over the years (including game 1’s lineup), but his moves always seem more informed by hunches and trying to win, as opposed to impressing himself. Joe Maddon is both a strength and potential weakness.

So how do the Giants do this? How do they get by a team that has great starting pitching, a stacked, versatile lineup, a very flexible bench, amazing defense, and strong bullpen headed by the best closer in baseball?

A couple of general thoughts:

  • The Cub’s pitching is good, but it is not as good as everyone thinks. Or at least, this is my opinion. Outside of Jake Arrieta, this is not a rotation that throws all that hard, or is particularly nasty. They kind of remind me of the 1993 Giants. They throw strikes and are confident in their great defense and that the lineup will score runs. Nothing against that strategy, but in the post-season, in a short series, against a lineup that is good at putting the ball in play, they’ll wish they could put more guys away via the strikeout.
  • The Giants played the Cubs extremely well. Early in the season the Giants took 2 of 3 in San Francisco, including a game where they knocked John Lester (games 1 starter) around a bit. Then, we all remember the 4 games of horror in Chicago before Labor Day. All 4 games were 1-run games, and if the bullpen handles itself, the Giants take 3 of those 4 games. Head to head these teams are actually closely matched.
  • The Giants have more holes and more question marks, no one is arguing that, but they have a manager who is a genius at masking his team’s weaknesses in short series. Again, I like Joe Maddon, but Bochy gives the Giants a huge edge.
  • Finally, some will argue that the Giants need to get the lead and avoid facing Aroldis Chapman. I would also recommend this course of action. However, the Giants are due a ninth inning comeback. The fact that they had exactly zero during the regular season screams that its’ going to happen at some point in this series. Further, the Giants saw Chapman as a Yankee and a Cub this year, and are familiar with him from his time in Cincinnati. They came very close to scoring off him each time they faced him this season. I know close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades but it feels like they will get to him in this series.

A couple specific thoughts:

  • Game 1 is always important, but I think in this series and in this context it is EXTREMELY imperative the Giants win tonight. A dominant performance by Johnny Cueto, a couple big hits by the lineup, and a save for Sergio Romo accomplishes three things: first, the all important win (duh); second, it further establishes confidence in the minds of the Giants…given their second half wobbles, it will serve them well to get back to back wins to start off the post-season; and third, it will introduce doubt into the Cubs, making game 2 a must win situation already (don’t want to be down 2-0 facing Bum).
  • Game 2 will be a house money situation for the G-men. My sense is the Cubs will figure out how to get this done, and even things up heading back to the West Coast.
  • Game 3 features the respective Aces of these teams. The Giants won this matchup a little over a month ago, and I think the same happens here, probably a 2-1 Giants win.
  • Game 4 then become a must win for both teams. If the Cubs pull it out and go back to Chicago, I can see them emerging victorious. The Giants need to avoid that plane ride at all costs. I’ve noticed several national writers dismiss Matt Moore as a league average starter, and sure, his numbers support that diagnoses, but Matt Moore represents a much different “league average” than say, Kirk Reuter. His overall numbers are there, but this is a guy who has nasty stuff and who can be nearly perfect when he’s on. My sense here is the Giants offense busts out a bit against John Lackey, and Matt Moore settles in to get the job done. Giants in 4.

I wrote before that all I wanted was for this team to have an opportunity in a series, and they get it. Can the rotation carry this team to an incredible, unexpected victory? My sense is yes, but as the old cliché goes: This is why they play the games.

Final Thoughts:

  • Key Hitters: there are a lot as it looks like Bochy is going to rely on platoons at 3B, 2B, and CF. One of those 6 guys needs to contribute significantly. I like Gorkys Hernandez to be the guy who gets a huge hit at some point. I also think it’s Brandon Belt time. He’ll face 3 right handers (another overall Giant’s advantage) after Lester tonight, and if he can get hot, especially homer hot, life will be good for us all.
  • Key Bullpen arm: Romo is obviously hugely important, but the other guy who will need to be big is Will Smith. I was a little surprised Steven Okert got left of the roster for this series, leaving the Giants with 2 lefties to get Anthony Rizzo/Jayson Heyward out. Smith will have to dominate those guys and get a few righties out as well.
  • Key stat: The stat I am watching in this series is innings pitched by the Giants starters. There’s a very good chance the Giants could head into game 2 without having yet dipped into the bullpen. Bochy is never afraid to use his ‘pen in the postseason, but I think this year will look more like the 2005 White Sox in that the Giants recipe for success may be 7-8 innings from the starters and then 3-5 outs from Smith and Romo. If the Giants get 30 innings from their starters in games 1-4, they will win this thing in SF.

Here we go!

Week in Review (5/21-5/27)

Results:

4-3 (25-23, 7.5 GB in NL West)

4-3 W @ MIL; 6-4 W @ MIL; 8-5 L @ MIL; 14-7 W @ MIA; 7-6 L @ MIA; 5-3 L @ MIA; 3-2 W @ MIA

Giants go on a seven game road trip, and a weird one at that (Milwaukee to Miami), right at the end of playing 20 games in 20 days and win a three game series and split a four gamer. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? And yet, there is something unsatisfying about this week. Maybe it was Lincecum giving the game away on Friday or the offense, which was potent most of the week, getting shut down by Mark Buerhle, but is sure felt like this should have/could have been a 5-2, or even a 6-1 trip. Which is kind of how the whole season feels: we’re doing ok, but it really seems like we should be doing better. More on that later this week…

Hitter of the Week:

There are actually a number of great performances to highlight: Posey hit two home runs and had 8 RBI, Pagan hit .348 and drove in 7, Arias hit .345 and smashed his first home run, and, of course, Melky did it all this week batting .452, hitting 2 home runs (plus 3 doubles and 2 triples), driving in 8 runs, stealing 3 bases, and scoring 12 times (with a nice little 1.371 OPS).

But, I am giving hitter of the week to Gregor Blanco for two reasons: one, I’ve talked about Melky enough, and two Gregor’s pretty darn good! It’s like Andres Torres all over again. He gets hits, walks a ton, steals bases, and sees a lot of pitches. That’s what you ask for from your leadoff hitter. He’s made the lineup deeper and stronger by allowing Pagan to hit down in the order. Can’t wait for Pablo to get back because this team might actually have a good offense when all the pieces are together!

Pitcher of the Week:

Matt Cain went 2-0 with a 3.29 ERA this week, and is generally pretty awesome, but check out the bullpen numbers for the week. Affeldt, Casilla, Romo, Edlefson, Loux, and Hensley combined to pitch 20 innings this week. They allowed 21 baserunners (a 1.05 WHIP) and had a collective 0.00 ERA! They struck out 22 batters and walked 9. The only blemish on the bullpen all week were the 4 runs Javier Lopez gave up in the blowout win against Miami (no harm, no foul). He came back strong yesterday, striking out Logan Morrison in a big spot. Hats off to the bullpen for their dominance!

Looking Ahead:

The Giants have three at home against Arizona (Arizona again!) and then, mercifully, have a day off before starting a four game home series against the Cubs. Hopefully they can hang in there against the snakes, and beat on the Cubs…still waiting for that 5-2/6-1 week of dominance.

(-SB)

Week in Review (4/6-4/8)

Results:

0-3 (0-3; 3.0 GB in NL West)

5-4 L @ Ari; 5-4 L @ Ari; 7-6 L @ Ari

So, that was pretty much the worst way to start the season. A couple of stats…the Giants were 55-9 when they scored at least 4 runs in 2011 (they are 0-3 when scoring 4+ runs in 2012)…they went 20-0 when scoring at least 6 runs in 2011 (they are 0-1 when scoring 6+ runs in 2012). NOT GOOD.

Some thoughts (in bullets)

  • We are going to have to be patient with Buster Posey. He hit an incredible opposite field home run in game 3 and seemed pretty comfortable at the plate. He looked fine receiving the ball too. He did not look in “action” plays that a catcher has to make around home plate (his error in game 1 and his two miscues in game 3 were telling). It’s sad that it essentially cost the Giants two games, but this is going to be a process for Buster and we have to give him some grace.
  • Brandon Crawford looked nervous. Maybe his thumb sprain is still bothering him, maybe he got a bit overwhelmed with the start of the season, but the dude has one vital role: play excellent defense. He showed it a few times, but he also blew some plays that a big league shortstop HAS to make. Come on man.
  • Melky looks great (good riddance Jonathan Sanchez), Pagan does not.
  • Belt needs to get it going in Colorado or I’m afraid they will send him down again.
  • Honestly, I’m not worried about the starters. Those guys will figure it out.
  • The Diamondbacks are not this good, but they are pretty good.

Hitter of the Week

Pablo Sandoval is a treasure. I wanted to give this to Melky for his strong debut, but Pablo is first out of the gate here in 2012. Big hits in big situations, a huge home run, using all fields, getting on base. Love it.

Pitcher of the Week

Uhhhhhhh…Sergio Romo still has the magic and it was fun to watch him work out of the 8th. He is poised to have one of the greatest 3 year runs of any reliever in baseball.

Looking Ahead

3 games in Colorado, then home for the home opener (and series) against the Pirates. Colorado is not usually where you want to go to get your pitching on track and Barry Zito is not the guy you want to see on the mound to stop the bleeding, but that’s where we are at. I hope they can take 2 of 3 from the Rockies and then go home and get right against the Pirates. Get a win guys.

(-SB)

Week In Review (9/19-9/25)

Results:

1-5 (84-75, 9 GB in NL West)

2-1 L @ LAD; 8-5 W @ LAD; 8-2 L @ LAD; 3-1 L @ Ari; 15-2 L @ Ari; 5-2 L @ Ari

Another season, another failed attempt at a repeat champion in Major League Baseball. I will have a lot more to say about the Giants season in future posts, but for now thank you boys for a great 2010, and for hanging in for most of 2011 even after you lost your best player for nearly 75% of the season. In a strange way this has been one of the more memorable seasons in a long time, mostly because I have never such a deeply flawed team make a legitimate run at a division title. There’s something commendable about that.

Hitter of the Week:

Despite the 1-5 belly flop of a last full week of baseball, the Giants actually had some decent offensive performances. Torres gave us a “where has that been all season” .400 average and a home run, Sandoval hit when he was in the lineup (despite his shoulder), and even Mark DeRosa contributed a 4 for 12 week. However, let’s tip our cap to Carlos Beltran who I’d love to have back, but let’s face it he’ll be in the AL next year making some fantasy owners very happy. All he did in a Giants uniform was hit .335/.379/.576 with 7 home runs and 18 RBI in 41 games. A lot of people have criticized the trade and, yeah, it would have been great to have had in the lineup about 15 more times, but, hey, everyone got hurt this year! They brought him over to hit and he hit. The end.

Pitcher of the Week:

Hard to find anyone to get too excited about this week (Vogelsong got the only win but did it with an ERA of 7.20). I’ll give it to Sergio Romo for being so awesome all season and pitching in 3 games this week without allowing a run. Tim Lincecum’s season, though, pretty much tells the whole story. 13-14 with 217 IP, 220 K, a 1.21 WHIP, and a 2.74 ERA. A losing record. Unbelievable.

Looking Ahead:

Start the roster prediction engines, it’s time to speculate about what the 2012 Giants will look like. Early predictions have Jimmy Rollins coming home to the Bay to play short stop. In the near future we will wrap up 2011, look ahead to the winter, predict some playoff series, and enjoy October baseball.

Thanks again Giants!

(-SB)

Week in Review (7/4-7/10)

Results:

4-3 (52-40, 3 game lead in NL West)

5-3 L vs. SD; 5-3 L vs. SD; 6-5 W vs. SD; 2-1 W vs. SD; 5-2 L vs. NYM; 3-1 W vs. NYM; 4-2 W vs. NYM

Hey, it’s the All-Star break and the Giants are in first place. No big deal, right? I mean it’s been a pretty smooth, rather uneventful first half of the season. FALSE. The monks will spend a few days this week recapping the first half and looking ahead the stretch run. If nothing else, this has been one compelling team to follow this year.

Hitter of the Week:

Tip of the cap to Pablo for keeping the streak alive (21 games now) and for sneaking on to the All-Star roster. I hope he hits a walk off home run against Jose Valverde. But, the hitter of the week has to be Nate Schierholtz who is resembling a real life, everyday major league player more and more. He has now raised his season slash line to: .293/.343/.464 which is pretty darn good. I really, really, really hope he can keep this up!

Pitcher of the Week:

The Barry Zito comeback tour is gaining some serious momentum. His outing against San Diego was easily the best performance by a starter this past week (8 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 7 K) and maybe the best start of his Giants’ career. However (and this is more of a midseason award than a weekly thing), while Brian Wilson does his bit for the All Star team Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, and Jeremy Affeldt might be the best core of set up men in all of baseball right now. Romo had an amazing week, Lopez is just a joy to watch, and Affeldt is looking more and more like his 2009 self. If Casilla can get back to where he was at the end of last year and Mota and Ramirez keep on holding down their end, I think this is the best bullpen I have ever seen. Period.

Stay tuned, a lot more to come this week!

(-SB)

Week in Review (5/16-5/22)

Results:

5-2 (27-19, 3.5 game lead in NL West)

7-4 L @Col; 5-3 L @Col; 8-5 W @ LAD; 3-1 W @ LAD; 2-1 W vs. Oak; 3-0 W vs. Oak; 5-4 W vs. Oak

Just for fun here are the scores the Giants’ victories in May: 7-6, 2-0, 4-3, 3-2, 3-0, 1-0, 4-3, 3-2, 3-0, 8-5, 3-1, 2-1, 3-0, 5-4. There are only three wins in there with more than 5 runs, and no margin of victory larger than 3. This is getting crazy! Dad says “clean” baseball is for sissys. For those keeping track: 7 walk off wins, 11 1-run wins at home. Also, 9 in a row at AT&T. Unbelievable.

It’s also amazing how much can change in the course of a week. Tuesday night after losing both in Colorado, the Giants were in second place and I was getting smack talk posted on my facebook wall by Rockies fans. Today, the Giants have a 3.5 game lead over those same Rockies. How do you like them apples Colorado friends!

Hitter of the Week:

Freddy Sanchez had a nice week (.417 avg), but it is time to talk about Nate Schierholtz. Nate of course had the big home run in Sundays epic comeback/walk-off/one-run victory. Some folks are clamoring for his being included in the starting lineup everyday. I once had a dream, pre-Andres Torres, that the Giants turn Nate in to the everyday center fielder. I still think that was a legitimate idea, but I also think the Giants are using him perfectly right now. Use him in spot starts, for late inning defense, and keep starting Ross and Burrell as the everyday corner outfielders. Im happy for Nate…he’s finally healthy and contributing for a good stretch, but I don’t think he’s an everyday guy. He’s the perfect fourth outfielder and there’s nothing wrong with that. Nonetheless, he is the hitter of the week for his two bombs, huge catch, and perfect 5 O’clock shadow beard.

Pitcher of the Week:

Two good efforts from Jonathan Sanchez, a Timmy shutout, a near complete game shutout from Madison Bumgarner, another solid effort from Matt Cain, and more surprising dominance from Ryan Vogelsong. Any of these guys could get the nod. However, lets honor Sergio Romo not only for his performance yesterday but for his ridiculous strikeout ability all season. He is averaging 14.3 Ks per 9 innings! He will occasionally hang that wicked slider and give up a home run, but the dude is a strikeout machine and that is a very, very nice thing to have. Well done Serg!

The Giants have won 5 in a row (9 in a row at home) and enter an interesting stretch. Day off today then 3 at home against the quality Marlins, before hitting the road for a midwest tour against the Brewers and Cardinals. This will be the most consecutive games against teams with .500 or better records. Should be a good test!

(-SB)